Air Mattress vs Sleeping Pad For Camping (Full Comparison)


One important aspect of camping is thinking about where you will be sleeping and what you will be sleeping on. There are two main options for deciding what to sleep on; an air mattress or a sleeping pad. Which option is going to be best for you? The answer depends on the type of camping you are going to be doing. I have both and use both for different reasons. From personal experience and some research on the internet, I have put together this post to help you decide which option will be better for your next camping trip.

In most cases, a sleeping pad is going to be more versatile and useful in all camping situations, but on the other hand, an air mattress delivers unparalleled comfort when car camping.

There are some questions that you need to ask yourself before deciding which one to get for your next camping trip. Your questions should include things like:

  • Which option will be more comfortable?
  • Which option will keep you warmer?
  • Which option will take up less space?
  • Which option will last longer?
  • Which option will cost less?
  • Which option is more versatile?

By the way, If you are in the market for a new sleeping pad, then you should click here to see the one I recommend on Amazon.

What Are Air Mattresses?

Air mattresses are beds that need to be blown up externally. They often require a pump to fill up because they need a lot of air to fill up. They are usually sized according to regular beds such as twin, full, queen, king. Etc. They are popular for car camping or for use at home for temporary guests.

What Are Sleeping Pads?

Sleeping pads come in 3 main types. They are air pads, closed-cell foam pads, and self-inflating pads. I have written about sleeping pads in more detail here. Air pads are like miniature air mattresses, foam pads require no inflation as they are just foam that can be neatly rolled up. Self-inflating pads are a combination of air and foam pads. For easy comparison, I will be mostly referring to foam pads in this article since they are the most different from an air mattress, but the other two have their merits which you can read from the link earlier.

What Is More Comfortable, Sleeping Pad or Air Mattress?

Air mattresses have a large surface area for which to sleep on. They are also very thick so you will be high off the floor. You can also adjust for comfort by either putting more air or less air into the mattress for your desired stiffness. With regular blankets and pillows, you can make an air mattress almost feel like the real thing when you are out camping. No doubt that air mattresses are comfy.

Sleeping pads have a much smaller surface area to sleep on. Most of them are designed to be “just wide enough” and “just long enough”. Taller people might hang off of them. They are pretty thin on average and it can make different sleeping positions have different levels of comfort. While they certainly are much more comfortable than a bare floor, they are unable to match the comfort of a regular air mattress. They do however offer many more advantages.

Winner: Air Mattress

Which Option Will Keep You Warmer?

Air mattresses require a lot of air to be functional. That air inside of the mattress will get as cold as the ambient temperature and being in contact with it will cause heat loss. Most air mattresses are simply unable to offer any way of keeping you warm so you will have to rely on other gear such as your sleeping bag and clothing. The outside material of the mattress is very thin so the cold air will easily be in contact with you when you are sleeping on it.

Foam sleeping pads provide a lot of insulation that reduces heat loss from the body. You might be surprised to know that a lot of heat is lost through the floor. If you are laying directly on the floor, it could be stealing a lot of body heat from you. A sleeping pad with foam insulation stops a lot of that heat loss. These sleeping pads are simply designed with maintaining more warmth in mind.

Winner: Sleeping Pad

Which Option Takes Up Less Space?

Air mattresses are much larger than sleeping pads. They are just bigger and even when deflated they can still take up a lot of space and are very heavy. They also require the use of a pump that also takes up space. I wouldn’t want to carry an air mattress on a backpacking trip. For car camping, it is reasonable though.

Sleeping pads are designed to be lightweight and portable. All of them are designed to be also used in backpacking. They are really lightweight and take up very little space. We are talking in the range of 1lbs-4lbs and small enough to be strapped to the bottom of your backpack.

Winner: Sleeping Pad

Which Option Will Last Longer?

Air mattresses are notorious for random leaking and random bulging. They can develop holes, rips, and tears. The quality has a lot to do with the price point. Cheap air mattresses will probably break more often than their more expensive counterparts. This isn’t always the case though because it is more of a gamble. Sometimes you hear of someone who has had the same air mattress for years, other times it is someone who only used it for one trip and now it won’t hold air in.

Sleeping pads are designed to be strong in the natural elements and are used in backpacking. These things can last for a long time. If you are using the foam sleeping pads then there is no risk of deflating, holes, punctures, tears, etc. Like with an air-filled one. Sleeping pads seem to last longer, and it is evident by a lot of product reviews you see on them.

Winner: Sleeping Pad

Which Option Costs Less?

Air mattresses can vary in price dramatically. There are ones you can get for as cheap as $15. These ones seem like a gamble of getting one that breaks really quickly or lasts for many years. More often than not the cheap ones do just randomly stop holding air properly. If you opt for a more expensive and reliable air mattress it is often worth the investment and saves you a lot of frustration, especially if you are out camping it is one less thing to worry about.

Sleeping pads will last much longer, but their price points are usually higher initially. If you are comparing over the long term then a good sleeping pad will cost less because of their high-quality construction and long life. Just like with air mattresses you could get a cheap one or you could get a brand with a trusted product that has stood up for many years.

Winner: Sleeping Pad, in the long run. Air Mattress, in the short run.

Which Option Is More Versatile?

Air mattresses are really only useful for summer camping and car camping where you are very close to your car. If that is all the camping you will be doing then there is nothing wrong with just getting an air mattress. Air mattresses are not very useful in cold weather and we all know that the weather can change in an instant. If you get a walk-in campsite then it could be logistically difficult to get your air mattress to your campsite.

Sleeping pads can successfully be used year-round. They can be especially helpful over air mattresses in colder weather because of the insulation they provide. They can also be easily transported as they are designed to also be used for backpacking. This makes walk-in sites a breeze to transport your sleeping pad. What they lack in overall comfort they make up for in all other aspects of use.

Winner: Sleeping Pad

Why Not Choose Both?

So as you can see, the sleeping pad wins in all regards except for comfort. If only there was a way that you could get the best of both worlds. Oh wait, there is. Getting both an air mattress and a sleeping pad and you can combine them and utilize them for different situations. If you are car camping and it is cold outside you can lay down the air mattress and lay the sleeping pad on top of the air mattress for combined comfort and warmth.

If you discover that your air mattress is leaking and you just got to your campsite, fear not because you still have your sleeping pad you can rely on for much more comfort than the cold hard ground. Did you just discover that you have to walk several hundred feet to access your walk-in campsite? No problem because you could just use your sleeping pad and leave the air mattress in the car.

This is what I personally use and I would highly recommend you get both as well. It will keep you ready for any camping situation. Being flexible and adaptable is one of the best qualities to have when you go camping and the right gear can allow you to be both of those.

Conclusion

Air mattresses are comfier than sleeping pads while sleeping pads are more useful in a variety of situations, you can get both and have the best of both worlds. With both options at your disposal, you will be ready for a variety of camping situations. Go with high-quality gear and you won’t regret it as they will last you for a long time.

My Favorite Camping Gear

  • Air Mattress: click here to see my favorite air mattress on Amazon.
  • Tent: click here to see my favorite tent available on Amazon.
  • Sleeping Pad: click here to check out the one I love on Amazon.
  • Sleeping Bag: click here to see the one I recommend on Amazon.
  • Camping Stove: click here to see the best camping stove on Amazon.

Zachary Smith

Zach is an avid outdoorsman that loves going camping with his Prius every chance he gets. He also regularly enjoys hiking and fishing. When he's not outside you can probably find him writing about it on this website. See his full bio here

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